Some of you, fewer and fewer every year, will remember watching Groucho Marx’s “You Bet Your Life.” If one of the contestants – usually a husband and wife – happened to mention the “secret word” – the duck would drop down with a $50 bill. Unfortunately, I have no $50 bill for the winner, because any of you could figure out the answer with the help of Google.
There’s been a “secret” word that has not become so secret recently, and it’s a word that many of us would not have been familiar with six months. Telling you what it is won’t do you much good in terms of how it’s actually used in Washington, but I’ll give it a try.
First, I’ll give you the various meanings, than you tell me what the key word is. Here we go:
1. “an amount of money equal to the difference between the cap set in the Budget Resolution and the amount actually appropriated . . .”
2. ”In Monday night’s third and final presidential debate on foreign policy, President Obama said the deep cuts to the military that are . . .”
3. “(——–) was never intended to be good fiscal policy. It was never intended to be policy, period.”
4. “The Pentagon is soaking up most of the attention around the looming budget cuts that would take place at the start of the new year . . .”
Do you give up, or perhaps you’ve known it all along. I sort of did, but I was wrong. Here’s a sort-of answer from Google: A sequestration is a fiscal policy procedure adopted by Congress to deal with the federal budget deficit. It’s usage, in fact the word itself, is new, because it first showed up in the recent Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit resolution.
I spend so much time on the word “sequestration” because it seems to be on the lips of every congressman and in the text of every budget document. To see just how common was the usage – and why I didn’t understand the current usage – I turned to the American Heritage dictionary, Fourth Edition. The first meaning for sequester – the preferred, if you will – is “to cause to withdraw into seclusion.” In law, it means seizure of property. Another meaning is seizure of property to insure payment of debts. Sheeesh, I’d have nothing left.
The question I ask, only half-seriously, is when an important, politically charged issue is being discussed, and perhaps voted on, is it a coincidence that Congress uses a key word that seems to obfuscate the subject? For what are they talking about? Only one of the most sensitive topics you could imagine.
Congress is arguing over wither to trim the deficit, first of all, by cutting the budget. And some of the budget cuts would come from entitlements, most likely for those not old enough to receive them yet. If they actually agree to cut Social Security and Medicare, a battle royale will break loose.
Now can you see why the handy word “sequestration” is being used?
Bud Stevenson, a stockbroker, lives in Fairfield. Reach him at [email protected]